SHARKPACK Poetry Review

An imprint of FATHOMBOOKS.

FL: H.D.’s “Stars Wheel in Purple”


Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare
as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star
as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,
nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;
yours is not gracious as the Pleiads are
nor as Orion’s sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,
when all the others blighted, reel and fall,
your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast.

Along with six or seven of Tennyson’s poems and Dickinson’s [341], H.D.’s “Orchard” represented a seminal poetic moment in my teenage life. The vocabulary is strong, at times arresting (just try to pass over the encounter with ‘You have flayed us/With your blossoms’), the vocative powerful; but the speaker’s desire to be quit of loveliness (‘Do you, alone unbeautiful,/Son of the god,/Spare us from loveliness:’) was cinching—both repellant and wondrous to my very young sensibilities. A rather mindbending prospect: to importune what I imagined to be a satyr-god in a place with such rich abundance; and what was the offering? the prostrate body? was the harvest a gift of the speaker or the backdrop against which this entreaty took place? Who could want freedom from beauty? The air of the poem is so sumptuously thick that blearing seemed a necessary part of it.

“Stars Wheel in Purple” is the arctic version of “Orchard,” I think, and while it shows great restraint, it unpacks the product ‘spared from loveliness’ impressively.

I love the poise of H.D.’s music in this. While a rhyme scheme is not immediately apparent, there’s little doubt that ‘star,’ ‘War,’ ‘rare,’ and ‘are’ are placed with great purpose, as are the chilly ‘Sirius,’ ‘sapphires,’ ‘luminous,’ ‘tryst,’ ‘blast.’ The blank analytic of the speaker’s address—’yours is not so rare’ and ‘yours is not gracious as’—create the very image of Artemis in the high firs, both virginal and impassioned—well, why else is she so spurred on? And truly, by virtue of “Stars Wheel in Purple,” I realize just how much Aphrodite and Vulcan are plausible touchstones in “Orchard.”

So much happens in the last stanza of the piece, and one realizes he has been kept just short of icy until now: the pacing is a very slow—then urgent—slip into the embrace of polar waters. ‘Imperious’ is a bold term, and true even to the reader’s experience of reading “Stars Wheel in Purple”—what, suddenly the poem is in the thrall of this demiurge, so passed-off for seven lines, whether we knew she would have to be reckoned with or not?—this, and the purposeful jerk at ‘reel and fall’ (note the jarring lack of a comma here) and I realize I’m just a fish in jaws. There is a killing speed to how suddenly I’m overwhelmed by

your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast[,]

which is not so ‘unbeautiful’ as it is flattening. ‘[B]affled,’ indeed, in something just like ‘wind and blast.’ This poem is hard to rival.

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